Coalition Presents its Concerns about the Draft Water Act

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The Coalition is made up of over 20 member groups and hundreds of individual members. Members include ECO PEI, The Cooper Institute, NFU Region 1 District 1, Sierra Club of PEI, Citizens’ Alliance, The Council of Canadians, Don’t Frack PEI, Save our Seas and Shores, and several watershed groups. You’ve heard from some of our member organizations in the last couple meetings. We concur with those presentations you heard, and would like to add a few more points.

The initial consultation process was inclusive and transparent. More time was added for feedback when asked, and many of our recommendations were put forward to you from the EAC. We see some of those recommendations in the draft act.

We would like to ask you once again to continue this positive process and include more meaningful public participation in the creation and completion of the water act.

Concerned Islanders must have a real opportunity to be heard and to feel that they have had a chance to influence the ultimate decisions. I’d like to refer to this chart that demonstrates the best practices for meaningful public participation.

IAP2-1000x771-eng-1

I would like to quote from the report on the Federal impact assessment: Expert Panel Report Building Common Ground: A New Vision for Impact Assessment in Canada

“a participation plan collaboratively designed with input from the public should clearly establish the objectives of public participation and specify roles for the public, including how input will be recorded, responded to and incorporated in decision-making. If the role of the public is established and agreed upon early in the process, future misunderstandings and frustrations could be avoided.”

One suggestion is a round table discussion, going through each clause and finding common ground. Lisa Mitchell from ECE Law has been consulting with our group, the working group for Environmental Rights and BlueDot PEI and has written a letter to you, Minister Mitchell. A quote from her letter is as follows:

“We recommend that the government host a round table session of participants with relevant knowledge and expertise to complete a clause by clause review of the draft Act as part of the public consultation process. The volunteer sector and the contribution they make to society is vastly underrated and undervalued, just like the environment.”

This format could also be adopted for the consultation on the regulations.

We are looking for a clear plan from you, going forward as to how you will include the public in the next steps. It is imperative that you allow enough time for our volunteers to do the work that is needed to engage in meaningful participation.

Once the water act is in place, active involvement from community members must be included to ensure public trust and accountability. Quebec’s Water Policy contains:

Principles of transparency and participation

  1. Under the conditions and within the limits defined by law, every person has a right of access to any information on water resources that is held by public authorities and a right to participate in public decision-making that affects those resources.

There is a wealth of information and know-how outside of government that will be valuable to the implementation of this act.

We made a presentation during the 1st round of consultations describing a water governance board. Water governance reflects:

“the range of political, organizational and administrative processes through which interests are articulated, input is absorbed, decisions are made and implemented, and decision makers are held accountable in the development and management of water resources and delivery of water services.” http://www.obwb.ca/fileadmin/docs/fbc_watergovernance_final.pdf -Okanagan water board.

Any land use has water implications on PEI. There have been assurances that other acts including the Lands Protection Act, Environmental Protection Act, Crop Rotation Act, Pesticide Act, will be amended to align with the goals and purposes of the Water Act. These amendments are critical to ensure the Water Act is an effective piece of legislation. The process of amending the other acts must also have meaningful public participation.

I will move on, due to our time constraint and go over a few items we feel need to be addressed and possibly amended in the act.

The purposes and goals section is an excellent addition and we are pleased to see it in the act.

We would like to see the wording of 2(b) regarding the access to water changed to include the “right” to water. Access to clean water is a basic human need and therefore a right.

2(e) is a description of the precautionary principle. Please name it. The definition you have chosen however is weak. Another definition that may be clearer could be:

“Precaution”: When there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty must not be used as a reason for postponing the adoption of effective measures to prevent environmental degradation”

 2(f) is a definition of Intergenerational Equity. Please name it.

2(g) should have an added “for all living things” to include all aquatic life.

Minister, you mentioned at the last public meeting that water for human needs comes first. The goals in the act include the protection of all ecosystems.

There is not a clear definition of personal domestic uses of water. What does that include? Basic human needs should include water for drinking, bathing, and sanitation. Canadians in general are over-users of water. We on PEI are no different.

A water conservation plan and the sustainable use of water should be included in this act. Despite the goodwill at every level, the Winter River continues to be bled dry. As Don Mazer said in his recent presentation: There should be no absolutely no place in law that gives any user the legal right to harm the ecosystem.

The province must provide leadership in developing a sustainable water use plan.

I cannot conclude this presentation without remarking on two very important issues that our members have raised. The first is high capacity wells. The Coalition was formed for the very purpose to oppose the lifting of the moratorium on high capacity wells for irrigation. Our stand has not changed. We feel it is incumbent on our government to insure that this moratorium stay in place. Again, conservation must be a part of this act and in order to conserve we must be looking at the over-use and waste of water. Other industries that have access to high capacity wells must also be examined and sustainable practices must be enforced.

You were able to adapt to new ideas when you added the ban on water exportation. You have the ability to do the same for fracking. The Premier said that it would be dealt with in the act, and we expect use the precautionary principle here again, and ban hydraulic fracturing on PEI. You said it would appear in the Energy act, but you should be able to add something in this act that clearly indicates this practice would be harmful to our water and is therefore prohibited.

The big questions that have been asked are not being answered adequately.

  • How will this act prevent another fish kill?
  • How will this act prevent nitrates and pesticides in our drinking water?
  • How will this act prevent another river running dry?

Without answers to these questions, can you really say you are protecting the quality and quantity of our water for generations to come?

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